Cartridge Creativity

I have a bad habit of falling behind when it comes to the world of video games.  My mother would rather we spend our summers outside, of course locking us out of the house to enforce it.  I didn’t have an NES until I was 11 (about one year after it was discontinued in North America), a Playstation until I was 14 (almost five years after the initial launch) and I just bought a PS3 at the end of last year (which I mostly use to watch Netflix).

Mostly, I find myself leaning more towards retro video gaming than the newer generation of games.  I like the simplicity of starting up a game, playing it for a little, and putting it away not having to worry about where I’ve left off.  Do all that you can in one sitting, and if your mom trips over the power cord when making a trip to the laundry room, so be it.  Life’s no cakewalk.

Thankfully in the internet age, we can track down tons of reviews, game summaries/FAQs, and even original box artwork and instruction manuals of just about any game we want (I recommend Games Database for finding manuals).  Before then, we’d often have to make guesses whether or not a game was worth playing.  When in a bind, you’d might be left to base your decision simply on the graphics on the box (thank goodness for the durability of Sega Genesis boxes) or even just the cartridge.

That’s what I’m going to attempt right now.  With no research, I’ll look at some video game artwork and try to gauge what I think the plot and/or goal of the game will be.

Note: Please ignore the fact that useful publications like Nintendo Power or GamePro were around at the time.  My parents had me on a strict diet of Highlights magazine that could not be broken.  Besides, only a Goofus would waste time with video games.


Gorf (Atari 2600)


Dear God in heaven!!  What do I make of this thing if I stumble across one of these at a flea market?  I’m not inclined to throw two of my hard-earned dollars away so haphazardly.

The dreaded horror of the label-less cartridge.  No illustration, graphic, or even a font that gives me a hint at what’s beneath the plastic.  But at least that well-applied copyright info appears to be standing the test of time.  I guess I’ll have to work off the name, which gives me two thoughts.

Instinctively, I though it was that it’s a character’s name.  He’s something of a precursor to ALF, though cats aren’t on his menu.  Gorf is a street-smart, wise-cracking fella from the planet Crandu.  He has but one goal in life: to visit Graceland.  Help Gorf collect enough containers of rocket fuel to propel his ship to Earth.  Watch out for Klimbo, a neighbourhood bully hell-bent on seeing Gorf fail.  Stop Klimbo’s minions (Beatles fans donning mop-top wigs) by using an arsenal of weapons that The King would approve:  broken records, sequins, and fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

My second thought was that it’s some sort of hybrid sport like frisbee and golf (Frolf, as I remember it from Seinfeld).  But where would the R come from in place of the L?  Racquetball?  Racing? Rugby? While combining those with golf would be fun in their own way, it’s not the direction I imagine.  Rhythmic gymnastics!

I wouldn’t dare change the sacred rules of golf, but I’ll add a bit of incentive.  You get a bogey, grab that ribbon and twirl, honey!  Double bogey? Double-dutch time with some rope duty.  Triple?  Three hoops for thee.  No more.  No less.  Three shall be the number thou shalt use, and the number of the using shall be three.

You’ll be aiming for the sand traps when given the chance to rock a leotard.  Could a change in wardrobe really be all that bad?


Dash Galaxy in the Alien Asylum (NES)


First, a bit of back story:

The year is 2222.  Dash Galaxy was born Herbert Quindorp, and was quickly put up for adoption by his parents since they were too grief-stricken over their inability to appropriately name him.  After a six-year spell at the Terrance Trent D’arby Memorial Orphanage, he finally found family in the form of scientists, Drs. Mortimer and Claudia Stinowski.

Years of being raised by scientists proved damning to Herbert’s upbringing. He’d have to check the pH levels of his foods before he could eat, wear sunscreen in the winter (I know that embarrassment all to well), and was often babysat by humorless grad students interning at Stinowski Labs.  Discomforts such as these aside, he would never want for anything in his new surroundings.

Looking to forge a new path in life and scrub out his alleged stains of childhood trauma, he re-brands himself as Dash Galaxy and checks himself into an alien asylum.  As evident from the photo, he arrives in style in an extravagant rocket ship.  Upon initial evaluation, he was deemed quite sane, albeit arrogant and spoiled rotten (the rocket was a gift from his parents for his latest “brilliant” invention, a transparent toilet).

Which finally leads us to the start of our game.

Dash re-commits himself, playing a man who believes himself to be a World War I flying ace.  To make himself more convincing and pitiable, he tailored his jacket out of his old Flash pajamas, topping off the look with dishwashing gloves and swimming goggles.  His self-appointed mission is to learn about himself while avoiding the suspicions of the wardens.  While doing so, lead Dash through such thrilling events as Match The Meds with the Patient and the Straight-Jacket Karate Tournament.


Treasure Master (NES)



Fantasy Prizes?  Thanks, but you’re too kind.  That five dollar cash rebate is generous enough as it stands.  That was probably around ten percent off the retail price.  If I get one for myself and a second for a friend, that’s twenty percent off his birthday gift.  I’ll put that ten bucks towards that Barcode Battler I always wanted.

It reminds me of those advertisements that they’d put in comic books, promising youngsters gifts like a Super Soaker or remote-controlled cars for selling enough… uhh… that’s not important.  I’d try to sell fur coats to PETA members if that’s what it takes to get my hands on that Spartus Study Center!!  They’d sometimes offer Nintendo games in these fundraisers.  I’m wondering if this one was ever offered up in a form of cruel irony.

But what of the game itself?  How do you get the treasure?  The picture tells all:

  • Launching wind-up submarines into the stomachs of sharks
  • Shoving bottle rockets up a robot’s… rear auxiliary port
  • Teaching arachnids the finer points of digital electronics
  • Covering the Sahara Desert with linoleum flooring


Aztec Challenge (Atari 400)


Trying to spice up their marriage, a suburban Caucasian couple take a trip to Mexico and co-opt some of their ancient customs.  They’ve wandered off from common tourist stops, so the only literature about the Aztecs they could find is in Spanish.  As neither of them are fluently bilingual, they had to wing it based on B-movies from the 50s and 60s.

Guide these lovebirds through their adventure as they flee the angry locals in the run of their lives.  This could very well be the shortest video game you’ve ever played since your characters run in uncomfortable sandals, making them rather easy to catch.  It’s one of those games where you’re facing an uphill battle the whole way.


Congo Bongo (Atari 2600)


Our lead character is Thaddeus Montgomery III.  He made his fortune by opening a successful chain of stores called “Thad’s Doodads”.  He’s off to Africa to search for fresh ideas to introduce to his business.  I don’t need to tell you that on this journey he’ll get more than he bargained for.

Playing off the name and cute imagery, a bestiality joke to be made is sitting right on the tee.  I’m not swinging, though.  There’s a much higher standard for video games not to be bogged down in such overtly obscene plots.

He appears to be winking at that snake around his neck, but I assure you that isn’t the case.  The object of the game is to make it through each level before the snake completely paralyses you as he slowly constricts around your body.   The cover is simply illustrating the onset of paralysis to the right side of his body.

The perspective in the picture is way out of whack.  His feet wade through a stream, but the adjacent pathways look incredibly narrow.   This must be representing some sort of power-up ability in the game.  Every time he discovers a new species of primate, his body swells up as large as his ego, until discovering it’s really just the same two monkeys following him around to deflate him to normal size.


Kickmaster (NES)


In an effort to prove to the world and to himself that he’s not just some one-kick-pony, Kickmaster travels the continent to improve other aspects of his fighting, giving his powerful legs a rest (hiring a pair of Sherpas to carry him didn’t hurt either).

After being left punch-drunk by the boxers of Dark Valley, tied into knots by wrestlers from the Mystic Plains, and reduced to tears by the insult artists of the Southern Swamplands, he resorted back to his one true gift: The Kick!

I’m lead to believe that this man has no qualms about violence against women.  It matters not that her pot has emitted a fragrance that most mortal men can’t resist (she’s cooking jambalaya), Kickmaster attacks this giant vixen with the blind rage he’s left pent up since prom night.  Such a shame!  She’s putting out a strong Angie Everhart vibe.

You thought that the gargoyle is capturing that beauty in the pink dress, didn’t you?  He’s escorting her to a woman’s shelter.  That must be why I’ve never heard of this game.  At least we’ve come a long way since then.


Totally RAD (NES)



Not much given on this label but a character from the eyes up and the title.  I’ll assume RAD is an acronym.  The possibilities are limitless.

Reality Altering Drugs – This game is an answer to N.A.R.C..  While that was an ultra-violent title attempting to convey a positive anti-drug message, this would be the polar opposite.  We’d have an extremely kid friendly game loaded with thinly veiled drug references.  Think if Tony Montana starred in Kirby’s Dreamland.

Ruthlessly Abusive Difficulty – Just what the doctor ordered: another video game that will send video game nerds into fits of rage.

This title will give the user a new level of frustration each time they put the game in.  Sometimes the game will reset itself when your about to lay the death blow in a boss fight (intentionally, not accidentally).  Next, the levels could appear rotated by 90 degrees.  Or maybe, if you’re lucky, the game will transform itself into Super Mario Bros. 3 (that is, until the exact second you start getting hooked).

Reasonably Accurate Dinosaur – Ignoring the bedazzled fingernails and sign-of-the-times mohawk, I might be getting warmer.  I’m also hoping it doubles as a Reasonalbly Acceptable Distraction so I don’t have to resort to other dino-driven gaming.

Raunchy Adult Depictions – That must be it!  Why else wouldn’t they show the full character?  He’s clearly at some form of peep show.  It also explains his green skin since his sub-par hygiene, leaving him little choice but to pay for his intimate encounters.

It does have the Nintendo Seal, but note the missing “of Quality” that should follow.  I’d love to channel my inner Jerry Seinfeld with a big “What’s the deal with” spiel, but I referenced him a few games back.  That can only mean one thing.  It’s (Dennis) Miller Time!



Now, I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but what does it say about the quality of a product when even the Seal of Quality wouldn’t pass the standards of a truck stop custodian?  It appears as if the good folks of Nintendo have struck upon Quaylinian levels of ineptitude.  Is it that much to ask that forty dollars can buy me a game that wasn’t assembled on a conveyor belt managed by Lucy Ricardo?

 I understand that the company, and many of their products, have their origins in Japan.  But when you board the Good Ship America, be prepared to bring more than tentacle hentai with you.  Your exports to us are supposed to make up for the skills we don’t have, and excluding Pauly Shore’s off-Broadway work in “My Fair Weasel”, our well of talent has the depth of a Roger Corman film.  Let’s give the consumers something worth plunking down ducats for.  If I wanted my earnings to go up in a puff of smoke that would make Cheech and Chong envious, I would’ve helped bankroll Cutthroat Island.

 If you’ll indulge me, Japan, I’ve got some advice.  Think of me as Dr. Ruth, and your little oversight is that pubic irritation you’ve convinced yourself was caused by a free sample of laundry detergent.  Just meet us halfway.  We’re a simple people.  We put our pants on one leg at a time, go to church on Sundays, and like our steaks well done so long as a ketchup bottle is nearby.  Approach us with the subtlety of James Cagney.  We have warning labels on our packaging to warn that knives are sharp, so springing for the appropriate decal on a video game cartridge is the least you could do.  Give us some assurance.  Don’t leave us hanging like Harold Lloyd off a clock tower.

America, I love you and the cute way you perk up when you hear the sound of bacon sizzling, but you’re hardly faultless.  It’s high time you start acting less like George McFly and more like George Bailey.  Take action!  Don’t you want to do more with your life than watch Cops and…. be on Cops?  Sure, you do!  Let’s get educated.  Instead of accepting quality with such little attention to detail that it makes a stick drawing look like an Escher painting, come up with something of your own.  You’ve got it in you.  You came up with the lint roller, gosh darn it, the sky’s the limit!

 So will the two of you sit down and hash this out, or will I have to send you to your rooms until China comes around and locks you both inside?

 Of course, that’s just my opinion.  I could be wrong.




One thought on “Cartridge Creativity

  1. Pingback: Cartridge Creativity 2 – Atari Boogaloo | Looks Bad, Feels Good

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